Hey there! Welcome back to our songwriting adventure. In Part One, we chatted about crafting some great lyrics. Now, let’s get our hands dirty with the composing part of the process, which is just crucial, especially if you’re a solo singer-songwriter without a band to back you up. In this post, we’ll go over three key ingredients for cooking up the instrumental side of your songs: nailing a catchy instrumental melody, switching up chord structures, and working those all-important dynamics.
Crafting a Catchy, Instrumental-led Melody
A great way to frame your song and make it memorable is to create a catchy, instrumental-led melody that complements your main vocal melody. This doesn’t mean it should be identical; instead, it should act as a counterpoint, enhancing the overall effect of the song.
This can act as a “thread” to hold listeners’ attention throughout different points in the song, sort of a base of familiarity they can return to directly within the instrumentals. Mainly a guitar-driven song? Try a complementary instrument such as a banjo or mandolin to set the melody apart a bit. You could experiment with different rhythms, melodies, and harmonies. A strong, well-crafted instrumental melody can help guide listeners through your song, providing a sense of familiarity and structure.
Varying Your Chord Structures
Just as it’s essential to switch up your lyrics to maintain interest, it’s also crucial to vary your chord structures. Using familiar chord progressions can provide a sense of comfort and relatability, but it can also make your song feel stale and uninteresting. To avoid this pitfall, experiment with different chord progressions and voicings. You could always try using borrowed chords from other keys, incorporating chord extensions or inversions, and even exploring modal interchange. By incorporating new harmonic ideas, your song will stand out and captivate listeners.
Here’s the place where I feel like most new singer-songwriters have the most room to grow: Dynamics are a vital aspect of instrumental songwriting, and often the most overlooked component by beginners. A song that remains flat dynamically can quickly lose a listener’s interest. Personally I would much rather listen to a bad melody and rote chord structure that MOVES, than a delightfully catchy tune that stays completely dynamically flat throughout its run.
Experiment with different techniques, such as crescendos, decrescendos, accents, or even silence, to build tension and release. Your song feeling a little boring at the 50% mark? A trick I use sometimes is to drop way down low in Verse 2 – lower your volume, perhaps palm mute out a more quiet percussive structure to draw the audience in close just after your first Chorus, and then build up to a roaring Chorus 2 or Bridge.
To make your music engaging and impactful, it’s essential to “go places” musically, with dynamic highs and lows that evoke emotion and passion. This is also the most crucial aspect of composing the instrumental side of your music to match the lyrical side, and here’s why:
Dynamics do not only refer to volume but also to intensity, emotion, and the energy you put into each part of the song. Strive to match the emotional impact of your lyrics with the dynamics in your music. A well-executed dynamic build can be the difference between an average song and an unforgettable one.
So, there you have it! If you’re a solo singer-songwriter, the instrumental side of your song is your foundation, and it’s up to you to make it rock – especially if you don’t have the additional instrumental backup of a band to support on your instrumental melody hooks and your dynamic movement. Finding interesting, minimalist ways to hit these points as a solo performer will help you tell your story in a way that keeps your listeners on the edge of their seats.
And remember, songwriting is all about growing and learning. Keep experimenting, improving, and, most importantly, have a blast doing it!